The OG Session Beers
Uttering the word “session” conjures a great deal of emotion in the beer world these days. The term is certainly loaded—and also surrounded with some misconceptions due to current trends among beer lovers. Among these is the prejudice that, “lighter means less flavor,” as well as an American taste trend in the direction of “stronger is better” during the past decade. The evidence that these notions and shifts in tastes are real is that brand success has correlated with characteristics such as high alcohol and ultra-bitter finishes, and also with terms such as “imperial” and “oak aged.”
Such beers are often delicious, but they pack a strong alcoholic punch. Beers that many people don’t think of as big…are big. A typical American IPA easily checks in at 7-8% alcohol. That’s a pretty serious wallop—enough to produce a pendulum swing back toward less powerful styles. Interestingly, this counter-movement originated in part from craft brewers themselves, some of whom craved tasty, low alcohol beer after a long day of work. Not finding what they were after in the marketplace, they decided to take up the task themselves.
The result was the revival of “session” beers, meaning, ones that can be consumed easily and in quantity during an extended session. Made for relaxed, multi-pint enjoyment, these are not intended for critical sensory dissection, but for pounding while chatting with your mates…and then ordering another.
The Original Definition: Generations ago, session beers were mainstays in England and Ireland, where the pub lifestyle reigned supreme. In Britain, the standards for session beers were set long ago with a maximum of 4% alcohol. Today, many session beer advocates acquiesce to 4.5-5%. My definition allows for 5.5% or less. I like to think less about a specific alcohol percentage and more about the beer’s style in relation to its purpose. Of course the beer also has to be affordable and tasty.
As you wade through the myriad choices available today, you can always count on a variety of traditional, European styles or the OGs to have the “session-ability” you are looking for.
An OG Session Sixer is a good way to start marathon beer drinking. In addition to these seek out classic Czech or German Pils, Berliner Weiss, Altbier, Kölsch, Gose, British Pale Ales (Bass) and Bitters. The list is almost endless…and very much worth exploring.
Radler: Stiegl, Grapefruit, Salzburg, Austria; 2.5%
Made with 40% Stiegl Goldbräu and 60% grapefruit soda. This is a thirst quencher made for cyclists, or Radler in German
Scottish Ale: Belhaven, Dunbar, Scotland; 5.2%
Malty rich, with butterscotch tones. Even malty beers can be session-able!
Steam Beer: Anchor San Francisco, California; 4.9%
Clean with balanced malt in a purely American hybrid lager style
Witbier: Blanche De Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium; 4.5%
Spicy like a hefeweissbier, but less yeasty, with more citrus and floral spice character
Helles Lager: Spaten Münchner Hell, Munich, Germany; 5.2%
Crisp and clean—the stuff of which an epic Oktoberfest is made. Instructions: Drink liters upon liters.
Hefeweissbier: Weihenstephaner, Weihenstephan, Germany; 5.4%
Citrusy, tart, cloudy, refreshing, aromatic, clove, banana, yeasty, versatile
Reprint from TEXSOM presents SOMMELIER Volume 0, pages 26–27
Hero picture: Radler
Photographer: Ahna Hubnik